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Into the West part 1


Just finished a River Runs Through it!
Day 2.5 and more to come when I sort them out

Montana July 18-25, 2007

July 17th

5:30pm Eastern Time: Today was brutal, as the day before a weeklong trip tends to be. Seven days in southwestern Montana. I can’t believe that it is finally here. We have been planning this trip since February and while talking about it, I kept feeling like someone else was going and I was telling people about a friend of mine that was going to Montana. However, it was me leaving work and telling people that I’d be out all week, finishing up some odds and ends and heading out the door.

11:00pm Eastern Time: Odds and ends are tied up and the gear is packed. Sleep came surprisingly easy for me tonight.

July 18th

I awoke suddenly. Did I miss it? 2 Am. What day is it? I peed and headed off to sleep again. The next time I opened my eyes, it was 3am. Then it started. My mind was awake and my body wanted more sleep. I thought about the trip. I always wanted Montana. The trout per mile numbers rivaled the summer I spent guiding in Alaska and this time I envisioned dry flies instead of egg flies and indicators. I tried to tune out all the thoughts and lay still for at least 15 minutes. I glanced at the clock. 3:01 Am. This continued until 4:30 when I got up, took a shower and packed the car. I went back upstairs, kissed my wife and drove away.

6:00 Am Eastern Time: I met Kieth at the Newspaper and it was a smooth transition. I was ready. Kieth was ready. In the airport, we were so excited, wee walked up to the wrong terminal and couldn’t figure out why they did not have us listed. We figured it all out, went up to the Delta counter this time and received our boarding passes. The first leg of the trip to Chicago was on time and left a few minutes early. We figured if we could get through Chicago, we would be alright however, we knew from a trip to Colorado a few years back, this was not always an easy task. That trip was labeled “The Nearly Disastrous Trip” and we were not looking for a repeat of that one.

9:00 Am Central Time: Chicago. I sat, watching bags being loaded on the plane. Mine was in the mix, I could relax. We boarded the plane that would take us to Bozeman, the captain came on and predicted smooth sailing and we took off, on time. The flight is 2 hours and 40 minutes and 1000 miles, 61 degrees and 2hrs flight time. Looking out the window, I could tell we were leaving the mid-west and entering some gorgeous country. At 11,000 feet, if the view is impressive, I could just imagine what it would be like standing on the ground. The descent into Bozeman was one of the most dramatic and impressive sights I have witnessed. The Airport is nestled in a valley surrounded by large mountains that loom like a wall cutting us off from the world we left behind and urging us further to the west.

11:00 Mountain Time: We headed to the baggage claim and collected our belongings and grabbed the keys to the rental car. We received a free upgrade from a base line SUV to an Infiniti with a cracked windshield and we loaded up and headed to town. We Arrived at Walmart in Bozeman that had a view of the not too distant Mountains and I told Kieth that it was the most beautiful Walmart I hat ever seen. We bought a 96 can blue and white 5-day cooler and $100 worth of groceries and found the nearest fly shop to purchase licenses. We met Fishnutz there and made plans to meet up in the Gallatin Canyon.

1:00pm: We finally pointed the car northeast and headed out of Bozeman on route 90 towards the town of Three Forks. We would pick up route 287 there to Helena and then through the Prickly Pear pass to Wolf Creek where we would be staying at Montana River Outfitters and fish the Missouri River below the Holter Dam. Since the speed limit was 70 mile per hour, we felt safe following the traffic at about 85 and we were still slowing down the locals. We traveled through the wide valleys at 85 miles per hour and seemed to go nowhere. The scale of this place is wild. Everything is so distant and the term un-believable kept escaping Kieth and my lips. After we finally reached Helena, we decided to stop for lunch. The steaks at Applebee’s in Helena seemed to taste better than the ones served in Albany, NY and I daydreamed about the fish that we would be putting our flies over in just a few short hours. These visions were rudely cut short as an entire glass of diet coke washed over my lap. Kieth had knocked his glass over with the map and now his entire beverage was on me. I told the waitress, he was cut-off. After lunch we headed out of Helena and into some canyon country. Prickly Pear Pass cut through the landscape next to the Prickly Pear Creek and created the red rock canyons the west is known for. The landscape was dry and hot. We had landed in the middle of a record breaking summer for heat. Bozeman had the hottest day on record, the most days over 100 in July and the hottest July on record, this year. At 2pm, the temperature gauge in the car read 98 degrees.

4:00 pm: We pulled into the MRO fly shop and grabbed the keys to the room. The room was minimal but air conditioned, clean and it had a shower. In fact someone had left us the latest copy of Playboy so that was nice. We unpacked while our new neighbors inquired about where we were from, how long we were staying, and gave us there opinions about the fishery.

We finally got settled, geared up and drove the 2 miles to the river. My first impression of the Missouri was from the Wolf Creek Bridge. The water was flat and moving at a nice walking speed. The color looked green however; I could tell this was due to the dense weeds that flowed in the current. A trout nosed up and gently rose in the middle of the river as if to say, “We are here and waiting, get off the bridge, the water is fine.”

We had a spot chosen by our host at the shop and we headed down the path, through the zig-zag in the fence and down the river on the left side. The river took a sharp bend and we could see from our vantage point a few nice trout hanging in the current. With no apparent way to cast at these, we continued on. ¼ mile down from the bridge, we encountered a shallow flat. Caddis were bouncing off the water here and there and once in a while we would see a rise.

I entered the river adjacent to one of these risers and started to strip some line out of my reel for the first time in the state of Montana. I quickly noticed that the current of the Missouri had more subtleties than first apparent and my first presentations were too inadequate for my chosen riser. Still, I did not spook the fish and he rose continuously while ignoring my offerings. I stepped back and shuffled upstream of the fish and laid a descent pile cast 2 feet from where he was rising. I thought this was too close but he took anyways and I landed an 8 inch brown without my fanfare. He did put up quite the fight for his size and I thought about the monsters that were rumored to be swimming in these waters. I caught two more trout of this size and we decided to head back to the bridge early.

3 Mule deer were in the field on the way back and a 3 foot river otter was playing in the water up by the bridge. Meanwhile the caddis had hit the water. Billions of them were flying all around and smashing into our face. We fished through this cloud of bugs but only saw sporadic risers and hooked no more fish. Back at the room, we ate and polished off a few Corona Lights. The shower at MRO was more than adequate. We drifted off to sleep quickly dreaming of the float we would be taking tomorrow.

July 19th

6:00 am We woke early to meet up with the guys from MRO at 7. They had promised to have the boat ready to go at 7 and they kept their promise. We stopped by the local gas station for coffee and donuts and headed out. On the way down to the Missouri, it looked like there were trees on fire. This turned out to be clouds of tricos going through their mating swarms and they would be on the water within 2 hours. After the boat was loaded, Kieth and I started watching what the guides who were already on the water were doing. I took first turn at the oars and we floated around up by the dam. We were trying a two nymph rig and an indicator but this proved fruitless. The tricos were really dropping by this time and we decided to float to find something happening. We pulled into a back-eddy were we thought there were some risers. We were right. The tricos matted the water and collected together in huge piles. Pods of 50 to 60 trout moved through, rising every few inches and covering an area the size of a ping pong table. This is where Kieth and I fell apart. We had never seen rising trout in these numbers. I hooked the boat oars, my vest on the floor and myself. When I finally did get a descent cast into the water, I lost my fly instantly in the sheer numbers of natural bugs on the water. About 15 casts later, I went to cast and my rod doubled over and bucked hard. The fish peeled line off the reel and ran into my backing. Then turned and came at me so fast, I thought I had lost it. The line came tight again and the fish turned and ran again. This time it did come loose and I set up to fish again. I hooked 2 more fish but lost them after brief battles. I finally checked my fly and it was bent straight back. Dam that trout fever that makes us lose our minds and common sense. I changed flies and finally got a good hook-up on a decent fish. This fish I landed after a good battle. These Missouri fish can really pull. Kieth and I hooked a few more but failed to land them.

11:00 am: The Tricos have ended for today. The pod of fish has dispersed and the rises have become more sporadic. We pulled up anchor and rowed over to a run some guides were concentrating on rather hard. They seemed to erow their clients through the run then walk back up the side of the river, pushing the drift boats and then rowing through the run again. They would do this with the 2 nymph rigs so Kieth and I headed over and slipped into the rotation. Nobody acknowledged our presence but the guides didn’t seem too upset at us so we kept fishing. With myself at the oars, Kieth landed two fish and lost a few others. I did not seem to have the feel for drifting the nymphs. Maybe I was holding my mouth wrong.

1:00 pm: Man is it hot. 100 degrees today and the only clouds was the smoke from a nearby fire. About 30 miles away, they had evacuated the next town over. Storms from the last few days had ignited quite a few fires in this part of Montana.

We decided to pull over and have lunch. I made a sandwich of cold cuts we bought the day before in Walmart and tried to drink as much water as possible. Then, I took my waders off and laid down in the water. It was so enjoyable I didn’t notice that Kieth had picked up his rod and was fishing. “Fish On!” he yelled and a huge rainbow took to the air. I jumped up and grabbed the camera and net from the boat. The fish jumped again, this time even higher and screamed into the main current. We finally landed the monster and took some pictures. We estimated the fish length on the rod, later finding out that this fish was close to 23 inches. The fish took a size 22 bead head RS2 that was trailed off a lightning bug slightly larger.

2:00pm: The caddis starting off the water about now. Pods of 10-12 fish started showing on the bank structure and Kieth and I had to experiment on the best way to set up on these fish. After spooking our fair share, we found that 25 feet above and 25 feet into the current was the best placement. This made a long pile cast and then a need to feed line into the drift quickly but it was successful. I hooked 10-12 fish and landed 4 or 5 ranging from 16-18 inches. Kieth struggled a bit with the dry fly as you had to be right on with the drift. At 3pm we headed under the Wolf Creek Bridge and we had 6 more mile to go to Craig where our car would be waiting. The fishing continued to be good for only 1 or 2 more miles and we hooked a few more fish. It petered out though and we were forced to row against an upstream wind for 4 miles with no fishing opportunities. We saw a few large carp but they had spooked before we saw them.

8:00pm: We pulled into the launch and rolled up to the bar, Izacks. The Jack and Cokes went down pretty smooth and we told stories about NY and listened to Montana Stories for a few hours. Apparently someone took a bit of offense to our comparing the Missouri and the Delaware because as we left the bar I overheard someone say, “If I have to hear one more story about the Delaware!” Well, we were leaving anyways so I guess he wouldn’t have to. Sleep came easy after this long day and we made final plans to meet Henry’s Fork Dork in the morning and float from the dam to the Wolf Creek bridge only.

July 20th
7:00 am: The tricos are in the air again. Billions of them. Henry’s Fork Dork was meeting us around 9, so after a coffee and a muffin, we headed to the eddy where the trout had been seen gulping the tricos the day before. Unfortunately, they were just out of reach but they were there. About 9, HFD showed up with his boat and we prepared for a float. We tried to park the boat in the scum line again but the wind kicked up a bit and did not allow the trico spinner to accumulate like the day before. We were later to learn that the river had dropped 300 cfs which made the dry fly drifts maddeningly slow and would keep the caddis fishing tough as well.

Caddis and Tricos in the Weeds

10:00am: We realized that the Trico fishing was not going to work this morning with the breeze, and we headed out into the current to join the rotation in the guide’s favorite run. The fishing was easy with the 2 nymph rigs. The drift was attained by a 45 degree downstream cast and a single upstream mend. The indicator would float along with the boat and finally jump under the water. Kieth hit a small bow right away and HFD hit the breaks. With the anchor dropped I hooked a pig. The fish screamed away at the pressure and I tried to ease him closer to the boat. He wouldn’t come. After a five minute tug of war, I finally landed one of the large browns the Missouri River is famous for. What colors on this fish.

12:00pm: I took a turn at the oars so Sid could fish and we all hooked 6 more fish but couldn’t close the deal as we did the loop 3 or 4 more times. Kieth hooked a fish that screamed into his backing downstream. He pleaded with me to raise the anchor and follow the fish and I kept telling him to crank down and get the fish back up here. Finally as the backing kept disappearing, I pulled on the anchor rope and started chasing the fish. It thrashed on the surface and as we neared it, the fish rolled up in the leader and broke off. We all hooked some of these monster schizophrenic fish during today’s float.

It occurred to me as we walked the boat up the Missouri River that Lewis and Clark did this same thing a couple hundred years ago. Of course they were not pulling a beautiful fiberglass Clackacraft easily up river but whatever.

As we continued down the river, I mentioned to HFD that we had found fish in the skinniest water you could find and I flipped my line into the water next to the bank. The indicator twitched, I pulled back on the rod and the fish of the trip skied out of the water and headed straight upstream. It was a thick bodied bow and finally it shook off but what a fish that was.

We stopped at the spot Kieth had hooked his monster the day before and had lunch. HFD had brought some great lunch meat and we watched as a guide pulled right into our “Secret Spot.” He hooked one nice fish and kept moving. “Well, I guess this spot isn’t so secret,” I joked. After lunch I reapplied some sunscreen and hit the river. It was again about 100 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. As we headed down to the flat turn we noticed a few fish in inches of water. I set up on them and the sunscreen flowed right into my eyes. I started crying like a baby and couldn’t see a thing. I put my nymphs out into the flat and through the tears I noticed a fish turn on it’s side and shake it’s head. I set up and the fish screamed off the flat like a bonefish. I was crying as I landed the fish not because I was happy or sad but the sunscreen burned like hell.

I managed to hook one more fish through the tears before the entire flat spooked. The fish remained but we hooked no more. HFD spotted a decent carp but we couldn’t get a look at a fly. We must have spooked him somehow.

2:00pm: The caddis never showed and we tried to get sporadic risers to come to our flies but it was not to be. We hooked no more fish until 5 when we pulled the boat out and HFD had to head home. Kieth and I actually decided that we would head out as well to get closer to the party in the Gallatin Range and packed, told MRO that we would be leaving tonight, took showers and hit the road.

After a great meal in Bozeman, we got lost heading out of town. When we finally came to civilization, we were parked right in front of a full nude strip club. After some half hearted discussions, we moved on to find a room. We pulled in front of the Gallatin Gateway Inn and walked through the front door confident we could not afford a place as nice as this one. The lady at the front desk told us that they had one room left and it was only $129 per night. “Great! We’ll take it!”

11:00pm: The Gallatin Gateway Inn has a great bar and the bartender, a former fishing guide assured us that the fishing in the canyon would be good.

More to come as I get it posted Read more at "The Adventure Journal" on Anglers Net I will try and get it posted here too.
July 21st

6:00am: The Gallatin Gateway Inn offered us a continental breakfast and we took full advantage of the oatmeal, fresh fruit and mini bagels.

As we pulled away from the inn, we noticed that the town of Gallatin Gateway was a beautiful little town and probably a nice place to live with a view of the mountain range only fifteen short miles away. As we headed up the canyon, the mountains loomed above and the walls closed in on the road. It was apparent we were heading into a totally different landscape than the one surrounding the Missouri River.

8:00am We followed the Gallatin River on the way up the canyon resisting the urge to fish. We were meeting the guys from the Drake Magazine for a few days of exploring the surrounding waters. We pulled into the campsite and only a few guys were up and around. The remnants of the night before lay around the campfire and we could see that several classy beers and a few bottles of wine were enjoyed in our absence. Tom, a tall young energetic young man from the state of Maine waded in the water casting an elk hair at the risers visible from the far bank and I started to get anxious about exploring this water. It was a riffle/pool freestone in contrast to the flat currents of the Missouri. The water here ran down the canyon hesitating in long pools before plunging down a few more feet into another long slick pool that ranged from knee to chest deep. The water was surprisingly fast and strong however and you had to watch your step and pick your crossing points.

Keith and I gathered up Tom, the only Drake member ready to hit the water and we walked the road about ¾ of a mile downstream. We entered the water and crossed a narrow but swift side channel. On the other side of the island was a classic pool about 100 feet long and Keith and Tom started casting right away. I watched as each of them missed a fish on their first casts and it began there and continued for hours. It seemed that we would either miss or hook a fish every other cast. We used stimulators for most of the fishing as there were large caddis flies about but also some Pale Morning Dun Spinners.

Fyshnutz and Montana Fishing Chick followed us up and caught just as many fish as we did and subsequent groups continued the trend. Was there no end to the numbers of willing fish in this stream? The fish ranged from 6-16 inches with Kieth getting a brown in the top of the range and myself landing a damn respectable rainbow under a log which required a suicide cast between two limbs.

2:00pm It was hot again, 98 in the shade. We arrived at the campsite and pulled up a chair. The beer was cold and the conversation great and we sat around the fire pit until about 6. Tom Bie, the publisher of “The Drake”, Whitney, Tom, Fyshnutz, Wingnut, Coolconman, MFC, Befuddled and Bill were all present. We talked about places we had all fished on this trip and ones that came before. We talked and compared home waters and styles of fishing. Tom showed befuddled how to tie flies but we really were waiting for the chance to get back on the water.

6:00pm: We headed to a spot Fyshnutz knew well. The short hike upstream was worth it alone. The path rimmed a small ranch that held horses on the other side of the post and rail fence and the river seemed to disappear into the nearest mountainside. The bug activity was thin but there were some rising fish and this time they proved a bit more challenging. I landed a few on some stimulators but the rise forms made me change to the #16 PMD spinner and the fish started taking it but they were hard to hook. I only landed about five this evening. The sage and flowers growing in the nearby meadows filled the air with an incredible potpourri effect which only enhanced our enjoyment of this magical place.

10:00pm: While others headed back to the campsite, Keith and I headed to the nearest bar, The Corral. It mixed a classic western motif married with eastern seaboard sportsbar complete with a New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox Pennant flags. A few high definition TV’s showed the national boxing match and the end of the late baseball games. The people were mixed interestingly as well. Eating at 3 different table were a backpacker with full pack leaning on the spare chair, beard to his chest looking like he had just walked from Jackson Hole to Big Sky, 3 fishing guides who looked like they were about to head back to their cabin for a shower after 3 days and at the final table, a group of millionaires, complete with pressed polo shirts, high priced cocktails and trophy wives. There we sat, in Big Sky Montana, 4 days into a fishing trip, chewing on our burgers debating whether to sleep on the ground or find a room somewhere.

12:00am: We found a room at Buck’s T-4, with a cheap room fee when you consider they offered a hot breakfast and we got to catch the late Sportscenter
July 22

In Search of Cutts

Being an eastern fly fisherman, some of the more enjoyable moments on the water come from bushwhacking small streams in search of our native trout, the brookie. While on my limited trips to the west, I like to take a day and fish for the native cut-throat trout which, like our brookies, inhabit the wild places and hold on to survival in the face of competition from introduced species, hybridization, and habitat degradation. While talking with the guys who came from or still lived in the area, I interrogated them for information on the best places to catch cut-throats regardless of the size of the fish or water.

6:00 am: We woke at Buck’s T-4 in Big Sky and had a king’s breakfast of sticky buns, sausage, biscuits and gravy, and omelets.

7:00 am: We pulled in to the campsite and Tom was ready to go. He jumped in the Infiniti and we were off to our first river where rumor had it, if we went up far enough, we would find cuts. While fishing this same stream and getting into quite a few feisty rainbows, Tom and Eric ran into the area’s fisheries biologist and he indicated the fishing only got better, the further up the valley you went. Well, better fishing and a possible cut-throat encounter, what could be better? It took us a good 45 minutes of driving on highways, dirt canyon roads and rutted meadow lanes to reach the 10 mile mark up the valley.

A distant mountain loomed above us and we marveled that even in this record heat, the remnants of the winter snowfall clung to the deepest cracks in the rock surface. Keith asked Tom, “What mountain do you think that is?” and Tom replied in his deepest Downeast Maine accent, “That’s a BFM.” As we got out, a horse from the nearby ranch ran up to see what we were doing. He obviously wasn’t too impressed and continued on his way. We walked down to the river and started casting into the likely spots. I took one step into this water, totally unnecessary because I could have hopped over the stream, I pulled back. This water had obviously melted off the mountain this week because it was the coldest water I had felt in a long time. It was odd because the surrounding landscape was devoid of any real shade giving trees and like I said before, the heat this year was oppressive. So it must have been still melting from the mountains or coming out of the ground at that temperature.

I missed a fish on my third cast into a likely looking run and Keith hooked a fish right away as well. We landed the feisty trout and as Keith cradled it we could all see the tell tale orange slash under the gill plates which indicated we had found the object of our quest.

Since the stream was so small, we took turns fishing. One person on the rod, casting into a knee deep run or side-arming a cast under a cut bank, and the other two narrating a play by play. “Oh, that’s a tight spot, Tom.” “Look out Keith, that’s gonna get whacked.” “Woe! He missed it!” We went fish for fish, inching up the stream, taking perfect cut after perfect cut. The turns did not last long as we took fish from every likely looking pocket and even some of the not-so-likely ones. Sometimes we even took 2 or 3 fish from the same spot. The fish ranged from 4 to 12 inches and those on the top of the range looked strangely out of place in the skinny water. “Can you believe that fish came from there?” we asked each other. Of course we were all asking the same question, and the only answer was a chuckle, a shake of the head as the person whose turn it was eagerly ripped line from the reel and stepped in position for the next casts.

About a mile into the trip, the stream which had run through a dry meadow with flowers none of us had encountered before, and a few plants we could only compare to the stinging nettles from our forests back east, started to change to a gradual incline and from a riffle pool to a fast pocket water stream bed.

The walls of the nearby mountain range closed in on us and the pools started to become more distant. When we would happen upon a pool, it was full of fish which seemed to get prettier and prettier through here, possibly losing the influence of the invading rainbow hybridization and becoming “More pure.” At the bridge where we stopped fishing, we caught the most striking of all the trout we caught, maybe a true cutthroat, with no rainbow blood in him at all.

11:00am. We had fished our way up to the next bridge. There was a car parked in the lot and we all agreed that it wouldn’t be ideal to follow someone that had started there and fished upstream. Our logic being that if anyone was following us up the stream he would be fishing to 40 trout with sore mouths, not something we wanted to be doing after having it so good for so long. On the way out of the valley, we saw another vehicle in our group and we left a note indicating we would be heading back to camp. We would be wrong about that.

12:00pm: While driving along the Gallatin, the perfect pools pulled us to one of the many parking areas. This stream does not lack in public access. We each took a small beat and fished. We each got fish including browns, rainbows and a big whitefish, possibly going 16 inches. I had wanted to cross the whitefish off my “Species caught” list so I was real happy to finally see one. I don’t know what all the fuss is about, he put a nice bend in the rod and actually took a bit of line. I thought it was fun. We fished for about an hour but the heat of the day was starting to get to us.

1:00pm. On the way back to the campsite, we couldn’t stop talking about what fun we had up in the valley fishing those small streams. We talked about brookie streams in New York and Maine and how the streams of similar size would be so overgrown, you couldn’t get a long fly rod in to cast, never mind make a 40 footer. Tom had heard a similar rumor about a creek close to the campsite so we decided to detour our route and take a look. This stream was even smaller, and like our eastern streams, was a bit tighter. Unlike the lazy pools and runs from the morning stream, this one took a sharper trip down the mountain and had small falls and plunge pools. This was five foot cast country and these eastern boys knew how to fish this stuff. We almost didn’t even get out of the car, we were hungry and weren’t too keen on fishing from our knees in 95 degree weather but Keith yelled at Tom and I, “I’m not leaving until I see someone catch a fish!”

The first fish was a brookie! I looked at Tom, as he declared the species and said, “Leave it to a freakin Mainer to find eastern brook trout in Montana.” The next fish was a cut, or a cut/bow, the next a decent rainbow, and finally another brookie. The fishing ended up as good as the morning as we ascended higher into the mountains.

Finally, we were almost fishing straight up and our little canyon had closed in to form just a crag in the surrounding rocks. We could no longer make it upstream safely as the stream plummeted down in 5 foot waterfalls. We took fish from the plunge pools we could reach and then sat there debating whether to try and make it up the stream or scale the wall of the crag and try and find the path that may or may not be there. The dilemma seemed to be, fish more (We obviously wanted to fish more) climb straight up the stream, fall and be carried out, climb the rocky walls of the cliff, get bitten by rattlesnakes, get through the snakes, lost trying to find the path and eaten by the bears which were obviously watching us from above waiting to see which we were going to chose. The final and most sane choice was not considered, go back the way we came, find the path by the car and walk up to see what lay ahead.

We ended up scaling the wall and saw no rattlesnakes. And what do you know, the path was right there too. We walked up to the top of the waterfalls and could not believe our eyes. The steep gradient suddenly stopped and opened up to the greenest mountain meadow we had ever seen. This was a scene straight out of a magazine and Keith told me, when he is old and drooling, he hopes he remembers this sight. I do too.

The stream cut a jagged line through the meadow in which the lush grass reached waist high in places and was only interrupted by a well placed beaver dam which stopped the water’s progress and created a nice sized pond. Beyond the dam were 2 more deep pools and a fallen tree stopped the water’s progress once more before it dropped off the face of the cliff and continued down through the narrow canyon.

Our first casts produced amazing results; Tom’s elk hair caddis was attacked by at least 10 fish at once. The winner being a brookie which had the most brilliant orange belly I have seen outside the Adirondacks in October. I finally got my act together and pried myself away from the view and hit the pool just before the cliff. My stimmy was attacked as it was swept under a tree by the biggest fish I hooked all day. Fourteen inches easy, maybe up to sixteen. I would never find out as the fish expertly headed under the tree and wrapped my line firmly around the branches. I did not receive my stimulator back and tied on an elk hair.

We made our way around the beaver pond, catching brook trout with every step. If the initial cast didn’t produce a fish, a twitch of the fly would bring a savage strike. We caught all brookies but one bow and the biggest fish came when we could reach the old stream bed from shore. We got trout in the 12 inch range, true trophies back home and you could probably hear us laughing all the way back at the camp site. After a while we just walked along the banks of the pond, marveling at the almost endless numbers of fish that scurried away from us with each footstep.

5:00 pm. At this time, we had been fishing and laughing for hours and Keith and I were supposed to be headed over to the Madison River near Cameron. Like he said, “How many brook trout do we need to catch today anyways?” We headed down the path. As we reached the car, a lady was just gearing up for a trek into the canyon. Having never been on that path before she asked, “How is it up there?” Tom took one look at her, smiled and said, “If you don’t like beautiful, your gonna hate it.” She laughed and headed up the path.

6:00 pm: We pulled into camp, everyone quizzed us on our day and we almost didn’t give up the goods but MFC beat it out of Tom and I can tell from some of the pictures from later in the week, others had a great experiences up there as well and I heard they went further up than we made it today. Keith and I bid everyone goodbye and headed out on our way to the next leg of our adventure. It will take an hour and a half to get to where we are going but we planned to stop in West Yellowstone and go to Blue Ribbon Flies for intel and a restocking of supplies.

7:30pm: West Yellowstone. Blue Ribbon Flies. The guys here are very helpful with flies and directions to the Madison. We bought some hoppers and I had been on their website all winter tying the various flies which would prove productive on the Madison. We headed out around 8, and took the trip out of town, around Hebgen Lake where we saw some rising fish and down to Quake Lake. We passed Kelly Gallopp’s Place, the Slide Inn, which was closed and found a bar, “The Den” which was still open and looked like it would be for a while.

9:00 We pulled into our cabin on the Madison. The cabins were at a place called “The West Fork Cabin and RV Camp” and we dropped our stuff and headed back to the bar. “The Den” was a nice log cabin and we pulled in just as the kitchen was about to close. We pleaded for burgers and were rewarded. We grabbed some double shot Jack and Cokes and headed to the porch. Outside we ran into a familiar face. I recognized Frank Smethurst from his film “Running Down the Man”, about a fly rodder’s quest for a roosterfish on the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. I introduced myself and informed him that we just missed there crew at the campground on the Gallatin. They had met the Drake guys the night before. Frank invited us to eat and drink with them and we found they were filming segments for Trout Unlimited Television. They had had a tough day on the Madison and we told stories of fishing, filming fishing, and all the pitfalls that go along with both. It was a great night with some great company including one guy who worked for Trout Unlimited Montana and he was convinced that all the trout in the stream from that morning we hybrids. I didn’t care at that point, they were still beautiful fish. At the end of the night we settled up, exchanged some contact info and headed back to the cabin. This would prove to be the best day of the trip.
KILL THOSE BROOKIES!!!!! They're not native and compete with the cutts.
July 23rd

The Madison


7:00am: We woke up at the usual 7am and were ready to be out on the water by 7:30. The people at the West Fork were not ready to begin their day until well after 8 however and we were at their mercy today. We had reserved Watermaster personal watercraft to float in and they were neither blown up nor even laid out for us to use. Furthermore, they had no shuttle lined up and the usual shuttle driver was still asleep. After finally rigging up the Watermasters and finding Patrick, our shuttle driver, we were speeding along the highway in the direction of the famous $3 Bridge. The Bridge gets its name from the $3 dollar optional donation per carload of angler’s to be left in the box in the parking lot. The $3 goes to the maintenance and upkeep of the property. Patrick was originally from Connecticut, another in the long line of easterners who had quit everything to try and make it in the American West. We tried to get all the information about the section of the Madison we would be floating in the short ride and learned what type of water we should be looking for. Really straight forward stuff, current seams, quiet water, and inside bend pools. The Madison runs hard and unbroken by pools or runs down a moderate gradient for what seems like that length and at first glance looks featureless and without current breaks for the fish to get out of the current. Looking at the water, you can certainly see why people call this the 100 mile riffle. Upon closer inspection however, the shoreline is not a straight line and creates small pockets of slack or at least quieter water and one can see several islands starting about a quarter mile downstream of the bridge. Admittedly, the water was flowing about 1700cfs, quite high for this time of year we were told and at lower flows, we probably would have seen more structure.


9:00 am: We finally were ready to shove off. It took about 100 yards and one paddle malfunction to get the hang of the Watermasters, but soon Keith and I were bobbing and weaving our way down the current. I stopped on the first island, thinking that this was the biggest current break around and probably the easiest water to cut my teeth on. The rules we heard were small nymphs and anything with red in it. I had tied up some small red serendipities during the winter and dropped them off a double bead head stone fly fo weight and just to try something large and something small. The ploy worked right away and the indicator jumped as it passed the tip of the island and settled into the seam. I set up on the fish and promptly landed my first Madison River Whitefish.


10:00 am: We continued down to the next set of islands, a series of four with hard riffles on each side, and continued fishing. Between each Island was a small riffle about ankle deep and this converged with the deeper main current creating a likely seam. I felt like these were likely fish holding spots and concentrated on those. I was rewarded with a second strike and this fish took off different than the first. It tore into the main current of the Madison and ran me down along the final island. At the tip, I caught up to my fly line and made my stand. Soon I had the fish in my net, a sturdy Brown Trout of about 16 inches, full of life and strong from a lifetime of fighting the Madison’s deceptively strong currents. A second brown, slightly smaller but just as feisty came from the next break in the islands and then the wheels came off of the trip.


11:00am. Keith and I were still working the islands and I had lost 2 rigs in the heavy flows around some boulders but I kept at it because I knew there were fish in the area. The indicator jumped and I gave the best high stick hook-set I could muster to take in the slack and I heard the tell tale crack of graphite giving way. I shot a glance at the tip of my rod expecting to see the customary 3 inches hanging off the line, but no, the tip section had broken just above the ferrule. In fact the female end of the ferrule was still firmly attached to the third section. The fish eventually shook off and I collected my broken rod. I sat there contemplating what to do. I surmised that if I shoved the remaining piece into the ferule, it just might work and I managed to get it in. The first few casts gave me a bit of confidence in the rest of the day and the indicator sunk, set, and crack….crap. I broke down the remaining pieces of the rod and went over to where Keith was fishing. We decided to share a rod and to get some distance into our float.


1:00 pm: We floated on, stopping at all the likely spots hooking fish in a few of them but having trouble closing the deal. In fact, we only landed two whitefish the entire rest of the day. We floated through some beautiful country though, and sometimes we just seemed content to do just that, float. The landscape around the Madison is surrounded on one side by the other side of the Gallatin Range, which we had just come from in the previous days and on the other were dry meadows which seemed to go on forever. It was a quite striking landscape. I don’t know if we were tired from the week or just beat from the bushwhacking the day before but it didn’t seem like fishing, especially in the afternoon was our first priority. It took us until 6:00 pm to get to the West Fork Cabin Camp. We pulled out and decided we were done fishing for the day. I took the car to Ennis, about 25 miles away for a phone call home and to gas up the truck. I also bought a few supplies we would need for the following day however resisted the temptation to buy a new rod.

7:30pm: I arrived back at camp to meet Keith for dinner and we drove over to “The Den” again. There were a few people eating inside but we asked to pull a table onto the porch and the staff agreed. In fact the owner was there and we complimented her on the burgers the night before. Keith then asked the owner if it would be alright if we turned the car around played some music. The waitress asked what kind of music we had in mind and we smiled and replied, the Dead of course. The Dead had been our soundtrack for most of the trip. She agreed however, had never heard of them and we played the music low enough to be polite. The owner came over and yelled at us to turn it up so we obliged. There we sat, blasting the Grateful Dead, Cameron, Montana, with the sun setting over the range and igniting the mountains to the east in orange light. It was almost surreal.


9:00pm: The waitress closed the kitchen and came out to hang on the porch. She informed us she liked the music but only really listens to country. Keith asked if she would like to listen to the Allman Bros instead but she hadn’t heard of them either so we kept the current soundtrack.

10:30 am: Back at the cabin we decided that we needed a plan. Our last full day in Montana was upon us and we needed to make it memorable. Keith’s mission would be to land a trout on the Madison and I suggested we head back over to the Gallatin and have an afternoon of easy simple stimulator fishing before heading to Bozeman. The final plan was to meet up with the Drake crew again for a last shindig before shipping back out to the east. That sounding like a great plan to us and we headed off to sleep.
July 24th

The Last Stand

6:00am: Today is our last full day in Montana. We were ready to get on the river early today however, after a quick inspection, my flybox was terribly thin on the red serendities that had been successful the day before. I pulled my vise and materials out of the toiletry case that I had packed them in and noticed I had no red D-rib. That was one of the variations I had made from the original pattern last February as I tied flies for this trip. I did however, have a few D-rib San Juan Worms which were also experiements on a cold snowy day. I took the scissors to these to salvage the red D-rib and whipped up 6 red serendipities with z-lon wings and a dubbed head instead of taking the time to spin deer hair. I gave 3 to Keith and 3 went in my box and we headed out the door.

By 7:00 we were speeding up the road to Three Dollar Bridge in an attempt to land Keith a trout on the Madison River. We parked the Car, paid our entrance fee and headed down the path. Our destination was the small group of islands, which I had landed trout at the previous day. The water looked lower and while we couldn’t confirm this at the time, the water looked different and the current seems did not seem to be as defined. I made my way out to the first set of Islands, armed with my four weight, to replace the broken 6, and started chucking the 2 fly rig in all the likely places. It wasn’t too long before I was fighting a small fish and my line was being pulled into the main current. I could see the fish flashing in the current so I knew it was no more than 12 inches but the fight was that of a much larger trout. As I landed the fish, I noticed that this fish had not taken the smaller red fly but took the larger double bead yellow stonefly nymph I was using primarily for weight. Keith took my picture and we started to ply the waters once more.


We caught no more off this group of islands and I crossed the channel again, moving downstream quickly, and leaving Keith behind to continue his quest. I got down to the largest group of islands and found the same riffles and seams where I had broken the rod yesterday. Emotions aside, I now realized that I had hooked quite a few fish on these islands yesterday and began throwing the rig around the seems. The first fish was a big whitey and I handled him without too much commotion. Below this part of the run was a large boulder blocking the river’s strong currents and I could tell this was a very likely holding spot. I was right and the indicator darted upstream. This was a substantially larger fish and gave a great fight on the ole four weight. A quick jump confirmed that this was a nice rainbow of about 15 inches. After this glimpse of the beauty, the fish screamed out into the center of the river and then made for my shoreline but further downstream taking more line out in the semi-circle run. I landed him at the lower tip of the island in the last riffle. Had I not gotten him into that seam, I don’t know if I would have landed him. This fish had also taken the larger nymph and I was wondering if my early morning tying session had been for not.


By that time, Keith had joined me on the island and I told him of that rainbow. Then I found he had been holding out on me, I asked him if he had done anything and he told me he had landed a beautiful rainbow as well, even bigger than mine and he had taken the small serendipity experiment fly! “Good for you!” I exclaimed and he smiled and told me we could go now. He had landed a trout on the Madison.


We crossed the side current and started fishing our way up the bank towards the bridge again. I decided I wanted to try hopper fishing and put one on, but I dropped the small red nymph below. I got two small fish to hit the hopper while picking the pockets with it but hooked and lost a more substantial fish on the nymph. We finally made it back to the bridge and went to check out of the West Fork Cabin.

11:00am. We showered, cleaned the cabin out, packed up the car and paid at the office and hit the road back towards West Yellowstone. All along Hebgen Lake we could see risers that almost pulled us off the road and onto the beach but we had decided we wanted to hit another part of the Gallatin. Along the way, we stopped in at the Slide Inn, Kelly Gallop’s place but he was out fishing the river. We made another stop at Blue Ribbon Flies to return a hat, which Keith had bought the first time but was not happy with the Velcro backing, and exchange it with a T-shirt. Craig Madsen was at the tying bench and we spoke with him for quite a while. He suggested we eat lunch at Ernie's Deli and that the owner, Dawn, the most beautiful woman in West would make us the best sandwich. Then he smiled and warned us not to get into an arm wrestling match, we wouldn’t win. When we got to Ernie's, it was packed with an interesting group of travelers and locals and it seemed that Mr. Madsen had suggested the most popular lunch spot in West Yellowstone. I ordered a club sandwich and Keith a Reuben and while we were waiting, we made our phone calls to civilization. It was easy to see which woman behind the counter Mr. Madsen had been talking about, there was an attractive tall blonde who had control of the counter and it didn’t seem like it was a very good idea to challenge her authority. The lunch was as advertised and soon we were heading back towards Big Sky and the Gallatin Canyon. A thunderstorm was heading up through the valley as we drove through Big Sky and we waited in the car for a good 45 minutes next to the river waiting for the sky to clear. It seemed as if the worst of it was over and the air had cooled off considerably. I almost wore waders but I figured I had not on the Gallatin yet and decided wet wading would do. As we walked down the path, another storm rolled in and we crouched down on an undercut bank and debated whether or not to return to the car. Because of the mountains, it was hard to tell where the storm actually was and before we knew it, the lightning was hitting the hill to our left. It was gone and behind the next mountain within 5 minutes and we waited another 15 before heading out on the river again. The Gallatin continued to fish well and we landed some nice sized rainbows and browns throughout the afternoon. We came to a huge pool and I dropped a prince nymph off the stimulator and started catching whitefish, and big ones at that. I must have pulled in 5 or more whitefish up to 18 inches and a few small trout as well before it became time to pack it in and head back to the car.


5:00pm: We changed in the parking lot and headed back out of the canyon towards Bozeman. We pulled over once to look at some Bison on a ranch before heading on our way. They are such magnificent animals.

7:00 we checked into the Royal 7 Quality Inn, pulled all our stuff out of the car and cleaned up a bit. We had plans to meet everyone still in town from the Drake party at the Montana Ale Works at 9 but after showering and changing, Keith and I decided to head over early. We got a table and ordered a few drinks and a meal. Eric and Tom arrived soon after and we secured the table next to us for them. The Montana Fishing Chick showed up next and Burbot was not far behind. The night quickly became a blur and Keith and I racked up a hefty tab by the end of the night. We hitched a ride to MFC’s house and the party continued. The rest of the crew in town joined us, Befuddled, Tarpon Slime and Bill to name a few and we all had a great time. I dozed off for a while in MFCs back yard chairs probably because they were so comfortable, and when I opened my eyes, everyone was laughing. Hmmm. I would see the picture later. Finally back at the room, we dozed off for good.


July 25th

The Trip Home

7:00am We woke at our normal time and started walking downtown back to the Montana Ale House to pick up our car we had left there. Bozeman was just starting to wake up and we realized what a college town this must be. Most of the doors on main street opened to a restaurant or bar but we did manage to find a small breakfast place and had a nice meal of French toast and omelets. Continuing on our way, we found the Bozeman Angler and went in side for a look. Nice looking shop with all the usual destination shop gear, flies and t-shirts and I bought one. At another gift store we bought some souvenirs to give to the ones we left behind and finally arrived at the car.


10:00am. We checked out of the room and headed to the airport. We gassed up the car and dropped it off The security line moved quickly and we had time to check out the gift shop for a few last minute gift items. The plane left on time and I fell asleep pretty quickly only awakening as the pilot announced, “Welcome to Chicago.” We had quite awhile to wait and we ate some pizza and hung out in one of the lounges reading the local paper and watching tv. After a few hours we learned that our flight was delayed and a 9:10 did not depart until 10:45.


2:30 am EST: We landed back in Albany, got our bags and shook hands. It was a great trip. As I drove up the highway towards home, I reflected on the adventures and the laughs we had on the journey. At 3:00am EST I had become full circle in a week and drifted off to sleep. Back to work tomorrow.
Your story was great,. i loved reading every word, i'm glade you had a good trip,.. i talked to a guy i worked with , and he told me they threw everything but the kitchen sink at the fish out west and could not get a hit,.. i enjoyed the pictures, and you arrived home safely, that is what vacations are all about ...Good memories
Sorry you freind didn';t have a good time, I can't see going out there and not getting fish, Here are some observations and answers to some questions from another site. They are just east verse west observations. The only thing I can think is that your friend got caught up in just being in the west and was unable or unwilling to change tactics to catch fish out there. These are just ramblings of a madman so take it for what it's worth. The questions were about comparing east vs west, heat, flies, and if there are more, bigger fish out there.


Western fishing is alot like eastern fishing with better (Debateable in some sots but overall) scenery and more fish. The reason I say better scenery is that we have some pretty places here but even the drive to the spots, 1/2 mile out of Bozeman and such are awesome. Imagine going to the high peaks out of Albany and the entire ride is like it is north of Warrensburgh. That is what it's like out west. Everywhere is beautiful. More fish, 5000 per mile in the MO. The only difference is the flies used. The caddis are a slightly different color, the prominant nymphs are smaller and the fish seemed to key in on the nymphs that were 22-18. Bigger than an 18 nymph ad your catch rate went down. That is something I rarely incorporate into my fishing here, most of my nymphing is done with 14 or larger here. The tricos are a bit larger, size 18 and the pmd's are a bit greener than the cahills and sulphers. I tied flies all winter for this particular trip and did alot of research. Sent hours on the phone with shops and ordered some flies that worked last year at this time to reverse engineer. I still bought the flies of the day and kept an open mind to the techniques which may have been out of my comfort zone. One example. Read about the MO, everything you read is big fish on dries. Go out there, watch what the guides do, ALL NYMPHING. Watch what the guides do, go through a particular spot, catch 2 fish, pull over and walk the boat up-river to set u in the run again...then do what the guides do, catch fish yourself. Then it changed in the afternoon. The guides would park above the pod of fish and 45 degrees out. Then drift the flies down to the fish with stack casts. Do that and catch fish. Then we went to the Gallatin, and that was stupid easy fishing with stimulators. Very fun little river. I highly recomend even though the fish weren't huge. The Madison, we stopped at 3 different shops and asked what to do. We tried all three techniques and caught fish. Everywhere we went, we swallowed our pride and bought some of the "Working flies" and then used a mix of the ones I tied and the bought ones. This proved successful. After my short visit, and just in my opinion, any competent fisherman who can catch fish in the east, esp, on the named rivers like the Battenkill, Delaware, Ausable will be able to go out west and with a bit of tweaking of the techniques, catch plenty of fish to keep them happy. Anybody who struggles out here will struggle out there too. The rivers also do not get nearly the pressure we see. I heard people complaining that they had to fish within sight of people. Oh boy!. No matter how crowded the rivers get out there, they see none of what our fish see.

The daytime heat was brutal and shut things down by 4 or 5. The evening fishing wasn't good and some rivers were closed by the DEC at 2pm for conservation reasons, ike the Yellowstone and Slough Creek. Some were even closed totally, Good conservation and thanks to the local anglers for abiding by the rules. The nights would drop into the 50's though so the mornings were the best fishing. Strange, 100 degree days, 50 degree nights.

Big fish, they have all the big fish we have, they have all the little fish we have just in more numbers. If 15% of our fish are "trophies" depending on the river, you know like an 11 inch brookie is a trophy in a small creek or a 24 inch brown is huge in a river, they probably have a 15% trophy ratio. It's just they have more fish so 15% is a bigger number...15% or a 100 is 15, 15% of 1000 is 150. but they also have a larger number (Same percentage of small fish) probably more because there fish are all wild, no stocking 15 inchers there. so they may have a higher percentage of smaller fish than we do.

Depending on the river, they are trout, they hit the flies as well as any other trout no matter the location. Pressured fish were hard, unpressured fish were easy. Same deal as here. In fact the unpressured fish were easier than ours because the competition was greater.

Fishing better? Depends, trout fishing was awesome no doubt. Better on average day to day no doubt, Can't see ever getting skunked out there. ever. just too many trout. But, here is where we got them. #'s of species. There are fisherman out there who have fished all their lives and never caught a smallmouth bass, or a largemouth, or a pike, pickerel, or sunfish. Stripers, Blues, bonito, albies are all exotics. They have never seen a crappie or a walleye and landlocked salmon may as well be an African Tigerfish. They have some reseviors which hold walleys but the fly fishermen don't go there, that's for the trollers. Steelhead and Salmon are long drives or flights. I don't know if I could live there and never see a smallie crash a popper again. It's all trout all the time out there. NYS has alot to offer within 3 hours of here. we have it pretty good. And that's more than the Bozeman resident can say. They think nothing of driving 4 hours one way for a day trip and they're still in trout country.